How to Get a Summer Internship

No pressure, right?

As my phone rang, butterflies ran through my stomach. I’d spent the last few weeks sending countless emails to startups, asking about the potential to intern for them and finally got a phone meeting.

While I did a bit of prep work by looking over their website, I was banking on my personality and business knowledge to carry me through. After all, I did DECA in high school and felt pretty prepared for what they could throw at me 😂.

After a bit of small talk, the question finally came:

“So what do you want to do for our company?”

I immediately jumped into my spiel about my background in business, extra-curricular activities, and eagerness to learn. There was an awkward silence, followed by another question:

“We don’t have time for interns. What exactly can you do?”

Students generally have limited work experience, so it may seem impossible to answer a question like this. Through this process, I faced a few obstacles to getting an internship and learned how to overcome them.

Problem 1: They aren’t looking for interns

Half of all available jobs are not posted online, and this is even higher for startups that don’t have dedicated recruiters. With a headcount of 10–30 people, many of which are developers, the thought of hiring an intern probably never comes to mind. So when you do suggest it in an email, most startups might see it as too much of a hassle to bother with.

Solution 1: Make them think they need you

I skimmed the website for a phone interview, but that doesn’t make me stand out. Spending an hour researching the company and the industry can show you are genuinely interested in working there AND help you figure out how you can contribute. I recently sourced an internship for a startup, and one supplementary piece I received is below:

She made her interests and value-add clear, and ended up getting the job!

Mikael Cho from Crew also wrote a great post on how you can stand out of the pile, with direct examples.

Problem 2: I don’t have any work experience

Out of all my extra-curriculars, the majority had one of two outcomes: event-planning experience (i.e. conferences) or fundraising experience. With a startup, neither of these are particularly relevant to day-to-day operations or an intern. So you need to find ways to work past that.

Solution 2: Get experience through your interests

If you’re interested in email marketing, building a newsletter using Mailchimp for your interest in cars can be a start. If you’re interested in data, Tableau has a free student version that you can play around with. There is also a ton of literature out there on these practices, i.e. marketers like Sujan Patel and Om Malik.

While you may not have experience, you can show passion. This immediately sets you apart from the crowd, and shows the hiring manager exactly what you want to learn. This makes it easy for them to see where you fit in, and where you can grow.

Problem 3: I don’t know anyone at the company

I love my parents, but mechanics and nurses aren’t the best for giving hot referrals to tech companies. Having a referral at a company is very important, but it doesn’t have to be a long-standing or family relationship. At startups, the point of contact might be the CEO or VP Marketing, given the small team.

Solution 3: Start reaching out to people

LinkedIn is an incredible tool to finding people that work at the company you’re targeting. Simply searching “Marketing at Company X” will return a plethora of results, as seen below.

You can then use free tools like Hunter and Verify Email to get their email if it’s not listed, or reach out via other mediums like Twitter.

Your Game Plan

I want to make this as easy as possible, so here’s your 3-step game plan on how to get an internship.

Step 1: Make a list of companies

Using tools like Crunchbase or directories like MaRS DD and Ryerson DMZ, you can find tons of local startups that you are interested in. Make a shortlist of ~ 50 that you find intriguing.

Step 2: Find contacts

Use the tools listed above to find people who work at the company and their emails/contact info. You can use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of who you’ve reached out to, and what meetings you have. I recently was introduced to a free tool called Huntr that helps you manage recruitment.

Step 3: Do some research and see where you fit in

After you’ve identified your interests, dig into the company and see where you might be able to add value. I found that making a slide deck or one-pager is very helpful, though you may want to wait until after you secure a meeting to do that.

At the beginning of the school year, I started religiously using this method to find marketing opportunities. Although a lot of my cold emails didn’t get responses, I eventually got one. I then got introduced to the appropriate person; here’s the email chain:

Names and other details whited out, though it’s proof the method works!

Once I learned what their needs were, I put together a deck on what I could bring to the team. By the end of September I had a part-time, paid job!